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Monday, May 14, 2012
"Gluten-free" Domino's Debacle and My Two Cents
In case you missed it, last week Domino's announced they are now serving a gluten-free pizza with support from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. This all sounded really great to those who were looking for a fast-food pizza solution, until you read further. On the NFCA website, they clearly state "NFCA supports the availability of gluten-free crust at Domino's but CANNOT recommend the pizza for customers with celiac disease." The NFCA also gave Domino's an Amber Designation which just made this whole pizza debacle even more confusing. (This level requires ingredient verification and basic training of wait staff and managers. Kitchen practices may vary with this designation, level one of the tier system, meaning those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity should ask questions and exercise judgment when dining at an establishment with an Amber Designation. Domino's has earned this designation.)

When the Twitterverse, Facebook, and blogosphere read these official statements all hell broke loose! Bloggers started bashing the NFCA for backing a product that is not safe for Celiacs. They asked how the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness could put their name on a press release for such an unsafe product. A fake Twitter account using Alice Bast's name popped up and started posting very offensive comments. It really was a public relations nightmare for the NFCA.

I tried to stay out of this mess because I would personally NEVER eat at one of these fast-food restaurants for fear of eating gluten. But I can no longer ignore this topic. I just have so many thoughts about this latest issue that goes way beyond gluten-free pizza. I think that the various gluten-free national organizations and research centers putting out conflicting reports, personal opinions, and "official statements" just goes to show you the major flaws in our gluten-free "community." How are we supposed to make advancements in gluten-free research and awareness if we all working against each other? Why do new not-for-profits pop up on a regular basis instead of groups banding together to make a bigger and more powerful group voice? Why do gluten-free bloggers regularly and publicly snub one another rather than try to work together for the greater good? Is anyone really part of this gluten-free community for anything but money any more????

But I digress. This is about gluten-free pizza and all of the opinions... I mean official statements about this gluten-free food. Right? Ignoring the fact that 4 of the 6 groups below are "not for profit" and are working towards a Celiac "solution" I put together a list of statements that I found on the internet regarding the NFCA and Domino's serving gluten-free pizza:

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness founder Alice Bast: "NFCA does NOT certify or approve this [gluten-free] pizza for those with celiac disease. NFCA did not help Domino's develop the Gluten Free Crust. Instead, we were brought in to educate the company about the risks associated with their preparation of the pizza."

Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland: "As an international celiac research center with expertise in gluten-related disorders, we believe that individuals who have been diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder should NOT consume this product."

Gluten Intolerance Group of North America's Cynthia Kupper, RD, GIG Executive: "I believe it would have been better for NFCA to tell Dominos that the cross contamination of the gluten free crust is too great and that NFCA cannot endorse such a product as gluten free. Why would NFCA work to raise awareness of cross contamination by endorsing a cross-contaminated product? " "In the wake of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness' endorsement of Domino's new "Gluten-Free Pizza" (that is NOT suitable for those who need to eat gluten-free), we here at 1in133 have been working hard behind the scenes to force the retraction of NFCA's Amber Designation."

Updated: Looks like the people from started an online petition called Ditch Amber, in reference to the NFCA Amber designation of restaurants.

Celiac Sprue Association: "Per CSA's conversation with Domino's health & wellness project manager - This product will be prepared with the same ingredients, same screens (pans), utensils, and cutters as their primary pizzas. This product is not intended for individuals with celiac disease."

Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Cynthia Beckman, Director of Development: "Recently ABC News had a piece on Domino's Pizza presenting a supposedly gluten-free item. This is not a product suitable for those with celiac disease and highlights the need for strict regulation of gluten-free foods. Apparently, Domino's Pizza received advice from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) on how to present this product. This also highlights the need for regulation at a government level rather than the food industry turning to lay groups. During this presentation, Dr. Peter Green was highlighted discussing the limitations of a gluten-free diet. This piece was a segment from an interview taken one year earlier and not related to discussion of the current "gluten-free" pizza issue." (updated 5/15/12)

The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: "If they are cooking gluten-free dough on the same surface as regular dough, then the likelihood of contamination is high." (unofficial but on their Facebook page)

Thoughts? Please leave your comments below. 

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Anonymous Elissa Washuta said...

Erin, thanks so much for doing the legwork to collect this information that has been spread out over the twitterverse, blogosphere, etc. recently. You're right, it's been really hard to parse out the statements lately and know what's what.

The whole thing has made me realize just how lucky I am to live in a place (Seattle) with a lot of options. My initial (internal) reaction was to think, Why should I care? Why would I even want to eat Domino's in the first place when I could get a much better gf pizza from other restaurants and grocery stores?

It didn't take me more than a couple of seconds to realize that my experience here in Seattle is not the norm. Domino's has a great opportunity here to bring truly gluten-free pizza to a lot of communities that wouldn't otherwise have it.

I know that cross-contamination is a big issue in a pizza place, but it can definitely be avoided. My favorite pizza place, Mama's of Hackettstown, NJ, which I have loved since childhood, took part in a gluten-free program to train their staff in cross-contamination issues. They're gluten-free all-stars. Their gf pizza is the best I've ever had, and it's safe to eat. It can be done.

Blogger Unknown said...

Elissa, I totally agree with you about location and being lucky. Living in NYC, I have so many gluten-free options available to me. I would not go to Domino's because I can hop on the subway and get SAFE gluten-free pizza at at least 3 different locations. Others throughout this country are not as lucky. Many people get excited about Domino's, Subway, Chuck E Cheese, etc. giving gluten-free options because that is all they have near-by.

Anonymous Janelle said...

"How are we supposed to make advancements in gluten-free research and awareness if we all working against each other?" YES. I've been thinking this throughout this whole thing. We NEED to be fighting this thing together. Thanks, Erin.

Anonymous Gluten Dude said...

The whole situation is just so bizarre. It's a term I find myself using over and over again to describe the whole Domino's / NFCA fiasco. It can get so hard to tell who is on our side and who is in it for other, perhaps unscrupulous, reasons.

For serious, self-aware celiacs like us, we wouldn't even consider eating the pizza. But I know there are so many others, the quiet celiacs, who are looking for any reason to eat normally again. And the NFCA association may give them this reason.

I think a commenter on my blog summed it up best when he said "Who cares? Domino's pizza sucks anyway!"

Anonymous Tom said...

I guess I am confused at what the word "free" means any more when it is used in the context of Gluten Free.

We already have lot's of words to describe what this pizza really is:

Limited Gluten
Light Gluten
Small Amounts of Gluten
Less Gluten than an ant can carry
We don't add gluten until we put toppings on it and cook it!
Have just a touch of gluten - it's good for you!
Our stock price will go up 50 cents a share if we can get all the celiacs to eat here!

OK enough of that. It just bums me out to see companies deliberately mislead the public by calling something 'Gluten Free' that even they admit is not.

Sounds like fraud to me. And to have an organization with the word "Celiac" in its name endorse a product publicly and say it's not OK for celiacs? Huh?

Anonymous Paula said...

Erin, great post. However the various Nat'l. Orgs worded it, basically bottom line they all agree Dominos pizza is not safe for Celiacs & gluten-intolerant due to the high risk of cross-contamination. As many believe, I personally do not think there should be an amber designation because it will confuse some people into thinking the GF pizza is safe ... for some it may be the excuse they were looking for to indulge (with health consequences later). I think it was a bit inappropriate for GIG to dish NFCA so publicly - why wasn't there a collaborative meeting of the Nat'l org minds to at least try to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, before going public with such a disapproval? I agree Erin, celiac organizations Unite! Yes, for many celiacs/gluten-intolerant it would have been nice to have the option of a safe Dominos pizza (many do not live in a hub with other GF pizza options) but unfortunately it didn't happen. Frankly, I also believe anytime a celiac ventures into a restaurant, whether it has a red, white or blue designation, we are always at risk. To comment on your "snubbing" reference. I spend a min. of 4 - 5 hours a day updating my website/FB/Tweets (sometimes late into the night) to offer the gluten-free community helpful news & lifestyle info, which I became passionate about doing after my diagnosis, like so many others, and I have been snubbed by the best of them - what's up with that? But I have to say, there have also been others whom have been wonderfully supportive and welcoming.

Blogger Candice said...

I couldn't agree with you more. While I too would never eat at fast food chain out of the fear I would get "glutened," I think it's important for people to know the facts. I wasn't going to post anything about this issue on my facebook page, but I felt people should know, so they could understand the serious issues.

It frustrates me that Dominos took the time to make this GF pizza, but are not marketing it to the millions of american that have celiac. It just makes me think they are in for the $$. That being said, The NFCA was responsible in being honest with the community, and I think it's wrong to bash.

If the community continues to work against each other, not only will the create a bad light, but we will not really get to where we need to go with research. Yes, it's important that we have food to eat, but to me the real importance is the research, is the awareness, and education. People need to have a better understanding of BOTH celiac and gluten sensitivity.

Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous Rocky Craig said...

Erin, you've done a great service with your central summary. To distill it even further, I'm going to plagiarize a little:

"No means NO (gluten)"
"Do or do not, there is no try"

Our AllerTrain education for restaurants puts a heavy emphasis on the concept of cross-contamination. Twenty parts per million (20 ppm) of gluten is sufficient to trigger a reaction in a celiac-afflicted diner. That's one drop of gluten in a gallon of water, or maybe a smudge of flour on a whole pizza.

Kitchens with Confidence shows a restaurant how to treat cross-contamination with all the caution it deserves, whether for gluten or (other) common food allergies. It's too important to ignore.

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